Essential Project Management Skills
Some people may wonder what skills a Project Manager would need to successfully run a project. What a person considers “successful” may vary, of course. Perhaps being able to simply stay within the agreed upon budget is considered a successful project. Maybe delivering all of the requested deliverables on time is considered successful. Maybe being able to complete most of the deliverables in a timely manner is considered successful. Or perhaps all planned or requested deliverables were not completed, but the business and product owners on the project are pleased with the work done and have confirmed that what was completed has added business value. Whatever the means to measuring a successful project may be, one thing is for certain: there are many skills a Project Manager must have in order to achieve some the level of success.
There are many skills a Project Manager may consider essential, but four key skills are:
- Problem Solving
- Recording Project Metrics
Project Managers (PMs) are often the primary point of contact for the client, which makes effective communication very important. It is the Project Manager’s job to listen to the client’s needs, gather important information, communicate those needs to the team so they are clear about what tasks need to be worked on, and plan accordingly. For the client, the PM will want to use effective communication skills, which include following up with the client when issues are noted, providing updates on progress, and periodically ensuring that the team’s work is in line with the client’s vision by discussing the client’s wants and needs with the client directly.
In addition to client communication, the Project Manager must also communicate well with his or her team. Clear communication between the PM and his or her team is the most effective way to ensure that the team is moving in the right direction.
Some communication tips on a team level would include:
- Being clear about the expected end result or goal: if the team has a clear picture of what the main goal is and what the end result should be, it will help them prioritize their tasks.
- Communicating deadlines frequently: it may be easy to forget deadlines when a team member has multiple deadlines to remember. Reminding the team of important deadlines that may be either fast approaching or far in the future is a helpful way to maintain a strong idea of what is important at the moment.
- Communicating any changes that may affect the team’s progress: by keeping the team in the loop of any changes or possible changes that could affect the team’s work load and scope, the Project Manager can avoid “blind side” situations, which keeps the team at ease and running smoothly.
For every Project Manager, problem solving is one of the many skills required to be successful. Problems will be filtered through the Project Manager from both the client and the team. It is also the Project Manager’s job to identify problems that may not necessarily be brought to their attention. Once a problem arises, the Project Manager must be able to ask all the right questions and gather the right information before analyzing the best way to resolve an issue. Once the PM has gathered all the necessary information, they will need to come up with the best possible solution for that problem. For many Project Managers, problem solving may be their least favorite part of the job, but it remains one of the most important skills to have. Knowing how to identify problems, resolve them in a timely manner, and minimize any damage the problem may cause is a skill that will be used throughout a PM’s career.
Some problem-solving tips would include:
- Defining the problem
- Determining the root causes of the problem
- Brainstorming ideas to solve the problem
- Selecting the best solution to the problem
- Taking action on that solution to solve the problem
After receiving the goals from the client, sorting through the deadlines and possible changes, and listening to the problems and concerns from the client and team members, the project manager will need to prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize again! This will be an ongoing task and test of their skills throughout the project’s life cycle. The PM will need to know how to prioritize the work that needs to be done.
Some prioritization questions to ask would include:
- What is the end goal and what is the quickest way to get there?
- Which tasks need to be worked on first?
- What task is most important to the client as well as easiest to accomplish?
- Which task is the hardest to accomplish – and will require giving the team more time to work out any issues that may arise while working on it?
Work cannot be managed without prioritization. The tasks that the other teams depend on or have deadlines need to be moved to the top of the list to avoid slowing down the progress of the entire project, program, or another project.
Problems identified in the project also need to be prioritized. Effectively prioritizing and reprioritizing the tasks, goals, and problems will help the team get the job done with fewer hiccups and ultimately result in a happy client.
Recording Project Metrics
Another essential skill that a PM benefits from is recording project metrics.
There are many measures that a PM may be interested in tracking, but time, cost, quality, progress related to the project, and accomplishment of program goals are generally the most helpful to project success and client happiness. Before measuring project successes, it’s necessary to identify what measurements are important to the project first. Looking back at reports from other projects or past efforts that team members or clients found successful is a good place to start.
Creating reports that track how well the team is completing assigned work will help the team plan tasks and give the client immediate insight into what the contract team is doing and how well they are accomplishing their goals. An example of this project tracking and its benefits can be seen in the Agile story point tracking. Under Agile, a team can keep track of the number of story points completed in each sprint (2-3 week development cycles); this is known as the team’s “velocity.” Tracking the team’s velocity helps the team determine the average number of story points they can achieve per sprint, allowing them to plan sprints more accurately and effectively. The velocity provides good base measurements of the team’s performance and productivity.
Jack of all Trades
There are many skills that can help a Project Manager run a successful project. Some will be standard and seen often; others will be relative to a project or even the PM’s style of managing. The skills listed above are broad skills that will help in managing any project. It is good for a project manager to assess their strengths and weaknesses and plan their project accordingly. A variety of skills and dedication to honing those to a project will only improve the client’s experience with the project.